That night, when the curtain rose, it showed Mark Twain seated at a piano, playing and singing, as if still cub pilot on the "John J. Roe:"
"Had an old horse whose name was Methusalem, Took him down and sold him in Jerusalem, A long time ago."
Pretending to be surprised and startled at the burst of applause, he sprang up and began to talk. How the audience enjoyed it!
Mark Twain continued his lecture tour into December, and then, on the 15th of that month, sailed by way of the Isthmus of Panama for New York. He had made some money, and was going home to see his people. He had planned to make a trip around the world later, contributing a series of letters to the "Alta California," lecturing where opportunity afforded. He had been on the Coast five and a half years, and to his professions of printing and piloting had added three others--mining, journalism, and lecturing. Also, he had acquired a measure of fame. He could come back to his people with a good account of his absence and a good heart for the future.
But it seems now only a chance that he arrived at all. Crossing the Isthmus, he embarked for New York on what proved to be a cholera ship. For a time there were one or more funerals daily. An entry in his diary says:
"Since the last two hours all laughter, all levity, has ceased on the ship--a settled gloom is upon the faces of the passengers.
"But the winter air of the North checked the contagion, and there were no new cases when New York City was reached."
Clemens remained but a short time in New York, and was presently in St. Louis with his mother and sister. They thought he looked old, but he had not changed in manner, and the gay banter between mother and son was soon as lively as ever. He was thirty-one now, and she sixty-four, but the years had made little difference. She petted him, joked with him, and scolded him. In turn, he petted and comforted and teased her. She decided he was the same Sam and always would be--a true prophecy.
He visited Hannibal and lectured there, receiving an ovation that would have satisfied even Tom Sawyer. In Keokuk he lectured again, then returned to St. Louis to plan his trip around the world.
He was not to make a trip around the world, however--not then. In St. Louis he saw the notice of the great "Quaker City" Holy Land excursion-- the first excursion of the kind ever planned--and was greatly taken with the idea. Impulsive as always, he wrote at once to the "Alta California," proposing that they send him as their correspondent on this grand ocean picnic. The cost of passage was $1.200, and the "Alta" hesitated, but Colonel McComb, already mentioned, assured his associates that the investment would be sound. The "Alta" wrote, accepting Mark Twain's proposal, and agreed to pay twenty dollars each for letters. Clemens hurried to New York to secure a berth, fearing the passenger-list might be full. Furthermore, with no one of distinction to vouch for him, according to advertised requirements, he was not sure of being accepted. Arriving in New York, he learned from an "Alta" representative that passage had already been reserved for him, but he still doubted his acceptance as one of the distinguished advertised company. His mind was presently relieved on this point. Waiting his turn at the booking-desk, he heard a newspaper man inquire:
"What notables are going?"
A clerk, with evident pride, rattled off the names:
"Lieutenant-General Sherman, Henry Ward Beecher, and Mark Twain; also, probably, General Banks."
It was very pleasant to hear the clerk say that. Not only was he accepted, but billed as an attraction.
The "Quaker City" would not sail for two months yet, and during the period of waiting Mark Twain was far from idle. He wrote New York letters to the "Alta," and he embarked in two rather important ventures-- he published his first book and he delivered a lecture in New York City.
Both these undertakings were planned and carried out by friends from the Coast.